Book Review: the Sibley Guide to Trees

The Sibley Guide to Trees
written and illustrated by David Allen Sibley
Knopf, $39.95

Sure, you’re a tree hugger, but do you know who you’re hugging?

As a subject for the urban naturalist, trees have a lot going for them. You don’t have to work to find them—just go outside. You can study them as long as you need to; they won’t fly away before you can find them in the guidebook.

But which guidebook? All guidebooks face a basic tension; the more information you include, the clunkier it is in the field. Eight years ago when I first became enamored with trees, I used (and still use) the Peterson Field Guide to Eastern Trees, which errs on the side of compact utility—focusing on the basic facts to know what you’re looking at—but a beginner might do better with The Sibley Guide to Trees.

Sibley is friendlier to the new tree lover, with a less technically-written introduction to tree identification and more features illustrated for each species, a big help while you master the finer points of bud scales. Of course, that makes it too big to slip in your pocket and take with you into Fairmount Park, but maybe that’s why we have backpacks. —Bernard Brown